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Byers' Beat: Behind US Attorney Jeff Jensen's decision to resign

Jensen will step down Dec. 30 and work for a private law firm in the St. Louis area
Credit: St. Louis Business Journal

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen can see the writing on the wall.

And he’s not going to sit around to wait for the ink to dry.

He announced Thursday he is stepping down Dec. 30 from the helm of the Eastern District of Missouri.

President Donald Trump appointed him in 2017. And now that the Electoral College has confirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s win, Jensen said he knows it’s only a matter of time before he gets replaced.

“After a change in the administration, all of the U.S. attorneys are eventually asked to leave,” he said in his first interview since announcing his resignation. “I know that I would be distracted working on my next move and I don’t think it’s good for the office or the taxpayers to have a U.S. Attorney in place who is working on other things.”

Trump’s administration didn’t forget Jensen, and most recently called on him to review a case against retired general and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Jensen recommended the Justice Department drop the case, which it did.

The experience thrust Jensen into the national spotlight.

“It was an honor to be given that responsibility and to work closely with Attorney General William Barr, for whom I have great respect,” Jensen said. “I look at it the same as any other case. You follow the evidence and do what’s right regardless of the consequences.”

Jensen said it was the office’s involvement in local crime that impacted him the most.

His office has prosecuted thousands of gun crimes during Jensen’s tenure, largely because the Missouri legislature loosened gun laws making it a misdemeanor for a felon to carry a gun. St. Louis police chiefs have decried the legislature’s decision on the matter.

But it’s still a federal crime.

So St. Louis cops have been flooding Jensen’s office with them.

Most recently, Jensen has been vocal about Operation Legend – a national federal effort to curb the rising violent crime rate.

“I don’t think people fully appreciate the danger our police officers face every day they need and deserve more community support.”

During the first eight weeks of the operation, Jensen said the city’s homicides fell by 39. He said homicide rates typically fall during colder temperatures, but only by about 5, according to a 10-year average of the same period.

“The level of violence in St. Louis is simply intolerable,” Jensen said. “But Operation Legend helped turn the tide and get it back to a normal level, which is still unacceptable.”

RELATED: US Attorney Jeff Jensen to step down Dec. 30

Jensen said the work of community organizations, including the Urban League, Better Family Life, the Clergy Coalition and the Demetrius Johnson Foundation, are also key in stopping the violence.

“I’m very grateful to those leaders who are addressing the root causes of crime and I hope the district will continue both its extremely aggressive prosecutions and its support of these community partners who attack the root causes of crime,” Jensen said.

He said he’s also grateful to the prosecutors in his office, who he said doubled the number of federal prosecutions in the office as well as achieved the lowest recidivism rate in the U.S. for people coming out of federal prison.

“I’ve been absolutely honored every day of those three years to work next to most talented and dedicated professionals in the country,” he said.

Jensen said he will now be working alongside attorneys in private practice at a local law firm – which he’s not at liberty to name.

And where the writing won’t be on the wall.

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